Kiwis conquer Xterra Beaver Creek: Sam Osborne and Samantha Kingsford win elite races
Defending champ Josiah Middaugh finishes third on his home course
BEAVER CREEK — Sam Osborne and Samantha Kingsford have an ongoing wager going into every triathlon they enter: lowest result gets stuck cleaning the bikes afterward.
That bet was a push on Saturday at Beaver Creek. Both New Zealanders, who started dating 10 years ago in college, claimed wins in the men’s and women’s elite divisions as Xterra mountain racing returned to Avon and Beaver Creek after a year hiatus brought on by the pandemic.
Defending champion Josiah Middaugh, 42, of EagleVail, who’d claimed six of the seven previous Xterra triathlons on the punishing mountain course he’d help design more than a decade ago, took third, coming in just behind Sam Long, 25, of Boulder.
The win for Osborne, 29, was redemption for his first race in Beaver Creek in 2019 when he finished second to Middaugh but got his butt kicked by the high-altitude course, which includes an exhausting 2,000-foot climb in under 4 miles on the bike after coming out of the swim at Nottingham Lake. It was also Osborne’s second straight win in this year’s series after winning the North American season opener in May at Oak Mountain State Park in Alabama, where Middaugh was third.
Osborne came out the mile swim at Nottingham Lake in second, with Middaugh and Long nipping at his heels, and moved into first after the first 2 miles of the 15-mile bike ride. Osborne added some time on the technical descents, where Long, a former distance runner who’s excelled in road triathlons, admitted he’s not as skilled as Osborne and Middaugh.
“I’m stoked, to be honest,” Osborne said after the win. “Look, I had a really horrific experience here in 2019. I mean, I still finished second to Josiah, but I just really, really suffered in the altitude.”
Osborne trained in Boulder for the 2019 race, where he also trained this summer in the lead-up to Beaver Creek. But he and Kingsford made a point of also doing some training in Winter Park, which is higher than Beaver Creek at 9,121 feet, to get on the same level as Middaugh.
Still, he said, the altitude at Beaver Creek and the challenging course tests competitors more than other races on the circuit.
“You just can’t really tap into that top end,” he said.
Middaugh called his effort Saturday a “good day for me, but it wasn’t a great day.”
“I felt like I didn’t have the legs,” he said. “But on my home course, like, I’ve got to find the legs. So the whole way through, I was kind of lacking that top end on the bike. But I was like, well, I can’t save anything. I had to pour every ounce I had into the bike.”
That effort gave him the fastest bike split in the field and brought him within striking distance for the win, but he struggled with bad stomach cramps on the first 2 miles of the 5-mile run, which he chalked up to “gelly belly.”
“I had like the double side stitch because we didn’t have any aid station on the bike,” he said of the cramps. “So I was lacking some fluids. A little too much gel. I had stomach cramps because I had too many carbs in my stomach.”
Nonetheless, he was happy with the result, especially against two competitors still in their 20s.
For Long, it was his second runner-up result at Beaver Creek, after finishing second to Middaugh in 2016.
“My second second place,” he joked. “It still feels great. I mean, you know, these are the best Xterra racers in the world, right? I have to have reasonable expectations, but I wanted to win. It was close. The podium could have gone in a different order if we raced it tomorrow or the next day.”
Redemption for Kingsford
Kingsford, who also won in Alabama at the season opener, was able to hold off defending champion Suzie Snyder, of Boulder, after also redeeming herself following a rough 2019 debut at Beaver Creek. She definitely had to clean her and Osborne’s bikes after taking fourth in that first Beaver Creek race.
“This race is brutal,” she said. “You just can’t race as hard as you do when you’re down lower. You’ve just to got to really pace yourself. As soon as you push it over that red line, you kinda come undone.”
While waiting for his significant other to finish, Osborne explained how the two met in college a decade ago while living in Dunedin and how he convinced Kingsford to take up triathlons when she was continually coming to watch him at his races.
Just to make it to the United States to race this season from New Zealand was quite the odyssey for the couple. The island nation has succeeded at keeping COVID-19 cases to a minimum, but getting its strict travel restrictions meant getting out was an ordeal.
On the afternoon they arrived in the United States, the couple got their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It was so stressful,” Kingsford said. “It was amazing that we came and won at Oak Mountain. We were unable to get the vaccine in New Zealand, we’ll go home and our family still won’t be vaccinated. It’s slow over there. It’s a bit frustrating, really.”
Snyder had fresh blood on her right leg at the finish line, the result of falling on the run and opening up her knee.
“I was running down that road and I just think I took the corner a little too tight and there was gravity and it just went out from under me,” she said.
After dusting her herself off and catching her breath, she was back chasing Kingsford, but wasn’t able to reel her in.
“I just tried to stay steady and just keep moving forward,” she said. “I was starting to feel it … I tried to keep it easy, but I felt terrible all the time on the run, and just had to walk a fair bit on the switchbacks. My heart rate was just too high.”